Sunday, 5 October 2014

A Vision for Nature

After world birding all summer, we arrived home in time for one day before I started back in Year 8.  With only two days back, I was then off school for a day.  My school, Chew Valley School, is really supportive of me and I had no trouble getting a day off school as an educational day.

I was going to a conference organised by A Focus on Nature (AFON), a youth nature conservation network.  It was a two day conference on Friday 5th and Saturday 6th September 2015 at Cambridge University.

Mum and I got a lift from Beth Aucott, who is doing a 12 month traineeship with Somerset Wildlife Trust.

We stayed at Westminster College, which was a beautiful old building and a lovely walk to the conference.  We walked past some of the most stunning colleges like St John’s, Trinity and Kings. 

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig at Westminster College, Cambridge University
Photograph taken by and copyright Helena Craig

Kings College, Cambridge University
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

The conference was called “A Vision for Nature” and is about looking forward and asking the question, “what do today’s young people want the natural world in 2050 to look like, and how do we get there?”

In 2050 I will be 48 years old, a bit older then my parents now and just coming up to “reviewing” my whole life on my 50th birthday.  I hope by then I’ve done some things to save our planet that I can be proud of.

The conference was made up of debating the future in conservation and workshops giving training in areas like wildlife film-making and photography.

The debates were on subjects like “Should science have the final say in conservation?” and “All creatures great and small: species conservation in Britain.”

Lucy McRobert and Matt Williams, who organised the conference, had done amazingly well signing up high profile conservationists, like Dr Rob Lambert, Stephen Moss and Dr Tony Juniper.  Dr Andy Clements, Director of the BTO, was also there and was brilliant because he went around and spoke to lots the young people. 

That evening, a large group of us went to Wagamama’s for dinner before going on to a pub.  Lucy was great and introduced me to some new people, which I appreciated.  I also had a lovely chat with Ed Marshall, he’s a talented photographer and is really supportive of me on Facebook.   It was also great to see Alex Berryman and Josie Hewitt, who I see twitching sometimes.  

The next day, there was a debate called “Teen Wolf: Unleashing the wild connection in children”.  It was led by Stephen Moss who wrote the report for English Nature called “Natural Childhood” about how children are no longer engaging with nature and how to reconnect them.  The debate was really interesting but I’m not sure there was a solution.  This is a topic I care about a lot, which is why I have written about getting children into wildlife and birds. 

I even plucked up the courage to talk about the imbalanced attitude towards girls compared to boys when it comes to the outdoors.  From my experience of Guides, girls are expected to keep their clothes clean and neat, be sensible and stay within sight when outdoors.  Whilst at Scouts, boys are allowed to roll around in the mud, play unsupervised and get their clothes dirty.

To get children and young people interested in conservation, they have to be out in nature first.  No one is going to care about conservation if they don’t appreciate nature and wildlife.  I believe that we all have to do everything we can to get children and young people interested in nature, wildlife and conversation.

In my area virtually all the primary schools have incorporated forest school into their timetable.  This is a fantastic way of getting children connected to nature from a very early age. Dad has been helping with forest school at my old primary school for a few years.  He talks about the importance of letting it be child led and not too structured.  He has also made sure forest school incorporates wildlife.  I think that forest school is just what children need to get that engagement with nature that Stephen Moss’ report talked about.

The link from an interest in nature to the importance of conservation and saving the environment can take place properly from about age 8 onward.  We started to talk about issues in science in my primary school.  As conservationists, we all have a part to play.

I have run bird workshops at Guides and at a Scout Jamboree attended by 200 Scouts. I am planning sessions for both to see starling murmurations and nightjar, watching ringing, making nest boxes and feeders and a session on why nature is fun.  Other Guides and Scouts Groups in my area are also interest in doing similar sessions.  I am hoping to give talks next year on how to get children and teenagers interested in nature.

My article in September Bird Watching Magazine gave my top ten tips for getting children interested in birds and wildlife and I also my top five birds to show a child to get them hooked.  My interview in September BBC Countryfile Magazine gave a list of my most amazing British birds and my tips online on “how to be a birdwatcher”.

In July, I gave a talk to Year 12 Environmental Science A level students.  I talked to them about conservation projects I have seen first-hand and what worked well. I wanted them to understand how wide ranging projects can be.  The feedback was that they felt inspired to take a gap year and get involved with a project, maybe even abroad.  Before my talk, conservation was something they had studied but not something that was real to them.  Afterwards, it was something they felt they could connect with.  I feel lucky that I have travelled so widely and so it is important to me to share the knowledge I have gained and my world perspective.

At the conference, we were asked to write our Vision for Nature.  Whilst we were in Malaysia and Borneo, I was shocked at the extent of palm oil plantations.  Land is deforested to plant palm oil trees, which support virtually no wildlife.  At times we drove for hours, with nothing but palm oil plantations as far as we could see.  In the Kinabatangan River area, there were amazing forests full of wildlife on one side of the river and palm oil on the other side, with nothing.  It is a disaster happening around us right now.  It’s like 500 years of woodland loss here happening in 20 years there. 

Palm Oil Plantations, Sabah, Borneo
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Palm Oil Plantations, Sabah, Borneo
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

With a global view, I feel it is more important to save an entire species from extinction (like the Madagascan Pochard) rather than spend lots of money to save a bird from no longer breeding in Britain, which is anyway on the edge of its natural range and widespread elsewhere (like maybe Golden Oriole).  Often, when one “flagship” species is saved in say a rainforest, lots of other species, like insects and “ugly” animals, also benefit from the saving of a habitat. However, where there is persecution in Britain or abroad, we should do everything we can to stop the killing and send the murderers to prison.  I think that being a conservationist goes hand in hand with being an activist. Chris Packham is a great role model.  He was fantastic going out to Malta and physically trying to stop the shooting, even getting arrested.  Maybe that’s what we should do more of here.  That’s why I like Greenpeace, because they put themselves out there. 

In Borneo, I met a really interesting man who had worked for WWF in Borneo for 20 years and then I suspect due to frustration, set up and NGO to save the Sumatran Rhino.   He talked about how conservative the large organizations can be and how it can take many years to get decisions, because of their size, number of people involved in the process and number of interested parties.  After the conference it made me wonder whether working in conservation made it difficult to be an eco-warrior.  Will someone who had been arrested for hunt sabbing find it harder to get a job?  My Dad used to be a hunt saboteur and it sounds cool to me.

My vision for the future is that “all the palm oil plantations turn back into forest”.  It is a vision that can also be extended to bringing wildlife habitats back where they have been lost all over the world.  My vision is that we will not be afraid to fight for conservation and our environment.

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig with Vision for the Future
Photograph taken by and copyright Helena Craig

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